Monthly Archives: November 2009

Writing Letters to Daddy about Boys

Fanny Burney  I have been having a wonderful time teaching Fanny Burney’s 1778 novel Evelina, written when she was 26. The novel was an instant success when it first appeared and it still resonates. This in spite of the fact that it is written in letters and reflects a society far more formal than our […]

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Praise God for the American Dream

  Norman Rockwell, “Freedom from Want” The gathering of the Miksches for Thanksgiving yesterday was a joyous affair.  Given that I attended it with trepidation, I should learn to stop worrying.  I was concerned about contentious debate, but the only political conversation I had was with my wife’s nephew, and that proved to be a substantive economic […]

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Political Fights during Thanksgiving Dinner

I write today’s post from Washington, Iowa where my wife and I are visiting her extended family.  Julia (maiden name Miksch) was raised on a farm in Grace Hill, a small Moravian community outside of Washington, and her three siblings have all remained in the state.   Our two sons are flying in, Darien and his […]

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Swollen Hemingways? See a Doctorow

Terence Winch    As we move into the flu season, here’s a fun poem that can speak to our anxieties about the H1N1 virus.  It imagines a whole host of literary stalwarts involved in the illness.  The poem is by the Irish American poet Terence Winch.  Thanks to my father Scott Bates, himself a wonderful writer […]

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Mr. Chips vs. Travis Bickle

Robert DeNiro as Travis Bickle       I continue here my discussion of three works that just happened to come together during one evening last week: John Updike’s novel Terrorist, Martin Scorcese’s film Taxi Driver, and George Bernard Shaw’s play Arms and the Man. My question is whether Shaw’s humanism is a sufficient answer to the undercurrent […]

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Updike’s Anatomy of a Terrorist

Last Thursday night I had an overbooked schedule.  I was moderating a book club at the local public library on John Updike’s 2006 novel Terrorist (at 7 p.m.).  I was in charge of a talkback following a college production of George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man (at 8 p.m.).  And I was screening Martin Scorcese’s […]

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Shaw Cuts through the Bull

Last night I gave a short lecture and then moderated a talkback following a college production of George Bernard Shaw’s play Arms and the Man (1894), directed by my colleague Michael Ellis-Tolaydo.  I hadn’t read the play since I was in high school, when I went on a Shaw kick.  (I first became enamored with […]

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Extreme Jealousy, a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

William Wycherley       As I’ve been writing recently about Restoration and 18th Century couples comedies, allow me one last post on a brilliant but cold play, William Wycherley’s Country Wife (1675).  I gained new insight into it when my student Stephanie Gonzalez noted that the jealousy theme in the play is one that she is very […]

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School for Scandal, Image is Everything

Richard Sheridan School for Scandal, which I’m currently teaching, was reportedly George Washington’s favorite play. It remains relevant today. For one thing, it gets at problems with our “image is everything” society. Here’s the plot. Joseph passes himself off as a “man of sentiment” but in actuality is a cunning villain. He has his eyes […]

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Bumpkin by Day, Enchantress by Night

Yesterday I talked about Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer (1773) and male shyness.  Today I discuss another Neo-Restoration comedy, Hannah Cowley’s The Belle’s Stratagem (1780), and how it addresses an equally thorny relationship problem: low self-esteem. In the play Letetia and Doricourt are to marry, even though they haven’t seen each other since they […]

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She Stoops to Circumvent Inhibitions

Oliver Goldsmith     Discussions in my 18th Century Couples Comedy class are proving to be a lot of fun because, almost seamlessly, we move between the 18th courtship scene, challenges faced by young people today, and contemporary movies and television shows.  Comedy rushes in where wise men fear to tread, giving us a way to talk […]

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Aphra Behn, Relationship Counselor

I’ve been reading essays for my Restoration and 18th Century Couples Comedy class and, as always, am finding new dimensions in the works as I look at them through the students’ eyes.  Aprha Behn’s comedy The Rover has proved particularly illuminating. Three essays written on the play focused on its romantic relationships. Florinda and Belvile […]

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Finding Peace for War’s Wandering Souls

Wayne Karlin  In honor of Veterans Day, I attended a fascinating talk by novelist Wayne Karlin on his new book Wandering Souls: Journeys with the Dead the Living in Viet Nam (Nation Books, 2009). In addition to being a top-flight writer, Wayne, a neighbor and friend, is a Vietnam vet who regularly journeys to Vietnam […]

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Austen, Not Byron or Scott, for Strength

My final post in this four-part series shows how my student Mary used Persuasion in her Jane Austen senior project to validate her growing self-confidence. She focused in that novel on the reading scenes involving the sensitive Captain Benwick, who is shattered by the death of his fiancé Fanny Harville. To console himself, Benwick plunges […]

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Heroic Reading When All Are against You

While it made sense that my student Mary would be drawn to Northanger Abbey (see my Thursday and Friday posts), Mansfield Park was the Jane Austen novel that brought out her best. She identified with the heroine Fanny Price for very understandable reasons. With her speech impairment, Mary, like Fanny, grew up feeling marginalized as […]

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Grendel’s Invasion of Fort Hood

I interrupt my Jane Austen series in honor of the soldiers killed by the army psychologist at Ford Hood.  Facts are sketchy as I write this, but Beowulf, particularly the monster Grendel, may give us some insights into the tragedy. Think of Grendel as a warrior that goes bad. In the epic, Grendel lives on […]

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Moving beyond Gothics to Reality

For a student who had spent her life hiding out in literature (see yesterday’s post), Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey struck a chord. Although it’s the most lightweight of Austen’s six great novels, Mary learned a lot about herself when she studied it. Northanger Abbey is a coming-of-age novel about young Catherine Morland. In a visit […]

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Reading Austen to Handle Adversity

In recent posts I have been writing about how young people in the 18th century found moral guidance in Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, even though the novel was attacked for corrupting them.  Over the next four posts I will tell an inspirational story about one of my students who found guidance in the novels of […]

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Bridging the 18th-Century Generation Gap

Yesterday my 18th Century Couples Comedy class concluded our discussion of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones. We spent a lot of time talking about how it was popular with youthful readers in the 18th century, an idea I owe to J. Paul Hunter, my dissertation director at Emory University. Paul explores the issue in Before Novels: […]

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Faced with Beauty, ‘Tis Folly to Be Wise

Claude Lorrain,”View of La Crescenza” (1648-50)      Poetry enhances our lives in a host of little ways.  It did so in a walk I took around campus with my wife last week. It was a beautiful fall day and we work at a beautiful campus.  There is an incline at the edge of college that we […]

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Same-Sex Marriage, a Leap of Faith

Rachel Kranz My novelist friend Rachel Kranz is currently in Maine campaigning with gay friends to save same-sex marriage against attempts to ban it. I mention this because her first novel, Leaps of Faith, is the most intelligent fictional exploration of same-sex marriage that I know. Among the differences between politics and fiction is the […]

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

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